Hello Connecticut

About ten years ago, on a weekend visit to New Haven in advance of J starting his post-doc in microbiology at Yale, he took me to Anchor Bar, a classic establishment in a city I didn't know; a city that was going to become my new home, at least for a little while. I ordered white wine, which was served in a stemmed glass filled to the absolute brim. I had to lower my head to take a sip while it sat on the table so it wouldn't spill, a cheerful beginning to our new adventure. 

And a new adventure it was. Over the next few months I got a new job - heading into New York City by train a few times a week to write for a start-up - we bought a house and I discovered I was pregnant. Nora was born at Yale-New Haven Hospital in September of 2008 and, suddenly, there in the bright white light of the operating room where they skillfully peformed an unplanned c-section, I became a mother. J and I met our blissfully quiet and inquisitive chubby cheeked infant while Bob Marley played in the background. 

The next few months brought new changes when I (like so many that year) lost my job at the start-up and started spending much more time at home with my new baby. I started looking for freelance writing work, but the transition was tough. I'd always envisioned working full time once I had kids, and I struggled. If I could have seen into the future and realized how fleeting infancy is, I would have soaked up every moment with Nora, who was (and is) an unfathomably good child. But the trials of new motherhood aren't something you can explain away and, besides, it got much better. 

When Nora was just two weeks old, I met my very first mom friend, Amy, at a breastfeeding support group where I realized with intense joy that, OH MY GOD, there are so many of us! Amy and I had playdates with our tiny babies, which were really dates for us. I continued to make friends at child-centric outings and at music classes where I had to sit on the floor, keep the beat and sing while the toddlers roamed the room, seemingly uninterested, although we were assured by the knowledgable teacher that they were learning. This was very far from my comfort zone and the daydreams I had of  meeting with publishers for established writing projects by that point in my life.

But it was ok because I was making new friends and getting out of the house. It was fun, meaningful and memorable. I was building a life in New Haven, a place that, as I explained to nearly everyone we met, we were living temporarily while J completed his post-doc, probably for the next three to five years. 

This sentiment colored our world. When the topic of school came up, I explained that there was no way we'd still be living there once Nora was old enough for kindergarten. J would have gotten a job as a professor running his own lab in some other city by then. I waited an exceedingly long time to replace our malfunctioning dishwasher, because we'd be moving soon anyway, right? And I freelanced instead of looking for a full-time job, which fit both the "transient" and "new mom" aspects of my life. I wrote essays about family life and stories about local businesses. Those months, then years, weren't lost, just anticipatory. 

When you're building a life, though, knowing what's next isn't mandatory. I found a drycleaner I liked, and, despite us almost never having drycleaning to do, she always remembered me and asked about the family. I found a great hairdresser who, like me, loved to gossip; I was devastated when she moved away. My friends and I planned monthly dinners to catch up, had long chats about parenting filled with lifesaving advice, and got a night off from the bedtime routine. Gabriel was born in April, 2011, and motherhood the second time around was way easier; I fawned over his tiny yawns, let him sleep on my chest whenever we got the chance, and didn't fret so much about the long, restless nights. Nora went to pre-K at the magnet school where she still goes today - a fourth grader! - because that "not living here once Nora was old enough for kindergarten" turned out to be, you know, way off. 

But we didn't know. When he was ready, J started looking for jobs, a process that often takes awhile in his field. Sometimes years. He had funding, though, and long-term projects and great health insurance. We had our house and friends and visits from my family that included day trips and long talks and New Haven pizza every time. We had J's parents just a few towns over, and his aunts, uncles and cousins (as well as some of mine) all over the place, providing babysitting and company that made our life infinintely easier - and much more fun. "I didn't know how helpful having family nearby would be, especially with kids," I said to people constantly. "It's amazing."

We attended family Christmas parties, weddings, funerals and baptisms. Many of them ended with late nights in bars, or post-celebration celebrations, like the time we all drank wine on the patio at in my in-laws after one of Nora's birthday parties, then got in the moonbounce. Remember you guys?!

There were scientist get-togethers that incuded classic rock singalongs, trips to Maine and saying sad goodbyes to Yale friends who were moving on (with the promise of future visits in cities all over the world). Adriana was born in the summer of 2014 - my third time heading into labor and delivery at Yale, knowing the drill by then - and then we were a family of five, besotted with the newest member of our crew. Friends thoughtfully brought us meals and life with three children carried on in a less harried way than I'd imagined while pregant (at least until she started walking...).

We constantly complained about the Connecticut winter and booked sunny February getaways, hosted houseguests in our by that point cramped quarters. Gabe was in the preschool at Neighborhood Music School, a local non-profit, and I had long, philosophical talks with the program's director about our always-temporary arrangement, calling them my "therapy sessions" (thank you, Christine!) I took a job there, writing marketing materials and grants. "Well," I figured, "someday we will move somewhere else, but for now we are here."

We spent sunsets by the Long Island Sound with neighbors, sharing wine and beer while our children pulled each other in a green wagon. I met regularly with some of J's female colleagues who'd started a professional support group of sorts, and we worked through problems big and small, becoming very close friends, there for each other  at a moment's notice. We drank coffee in bed and made weekend plans and rearranged the house to create more space; we decluttered and painted and fenced in the backyard when our wonderful, old dogs died just a month apart and we ended up with a new puppy.

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One night we were out at a place we love called Ordinary, a refurbished space that had previously housed one of New Haven's most well-known bars. It's right around the corner from Anchor, which at that point had been shut down and reopened as a classier establishment, too. It probably doesn't serve such full glasses of wine anymore, which is a shame.

We were chatting with the bartender, who just so happened to have gone to high school with J, and was telling us how he'd recently moved into our neighborhood. He was making us a special cocktail before we left to see a band we liked at a nearby venue. Just then a couple we are friends with walked in and there were hugs and hellos. The kids were home with a sitter we trusted, and the bar was full of happy people. For the very first time I thought, "Wait, what if we don't leave?" 

I know. Funny that I hadn't thought that a million times before. But it seemed such an unlikely possibility, considering J's prospects were so much better if we looked all over, and the possibilities in Connecticut so sparse.  I'd never considered New Haven my forever-home. Doing so would have made it a million times harder to say goodbye, especially considering it was going to be so hard to say goodbye no matter what. 

And then the best news came: we don't have to. 

This summer J accepted an exciting position at a lab in Connecticut! It's about 40 minutes from our house, a not-bad commute that could be remedied by us moving a bit closer, a possibility we're exploring. Because now we can explore all the possibilities. Because we know what's next.

The refrain has changed. WE ARE STAYING, and all the things I always imagined would be part of our past tense New Haven years can continue to be part of our present. Plus who knows what else? A new house? Getting involved in the PTO? A new baby? Oh my god, I am kidding. 

It is a tangible shift. I've found myself more eager to explore the city, plan daytrips to unknown parts of the state, stop hating winter and - although our life will probably remain at least base level insane - make our daily schedule less frantic, more relaxing.

The other day I was having coffee with someone I'd just met for work, and as it happens sometimes, ended up saying the truest thing to a complete stranger: "I was afraid to fall in love with it here before, because I knew we'd have to leave. But now I can." 

Last weekend, being home after lots of time spent out of town this summer, we decided to go for a drive to check out New Haven neighborhoods and after awhile, the inevitable occurred: everybody wanted a snack. In search of lemondade and iced coffee and some kind of baked good we ended up at a bookshop and cafe downtown. 

J parked the minivan and we got out of the car to late afternoon sun and the kind of perfect summer weather that happens only about four days a year. 

I looked at my family there on the sidewalk, and said, "This is where we live!" 

And Nora, my always practical, now expertly-sarcastic Nora - who will, in the blink of an eye be a freshman at college asking her hallmates ubiquitous question, "Where are you from?" and answering in turn - replied, "Um, this sidewalk is not where we live - "

"Ok Nora," I said. "This is not where we live, but you get it. This is where we live now!"

"I mean, we actually live in a house - "

"Stop it! You know what I mean! This is home!"

She smiled. She knew what I meant. We walked down the street, in no hurry at all. 

Every day

It has been a little too eventful of a summer for me personally to write anything very emotional or specific just yet. Also, the past few days have been so politically charged that it seems like that's ALL one should be writing about, if one is writing, but I don't generally do that too often, because approximately one million other brilliant journalists do it so much better than I ever could. 

I did want to check in, though, with just a few words. I may have talked about this before, even multiple times, but a family friend once told me - when I was much younger - that if I wanted to be a writer, I needed to write every day. This is not exactly advice I've followed, unless you count, um, text messages? To do lists? Terse emails to my darling husband about scheduling conundrums?

But considering this lovely summer afternoon - and I'm talking about lovely right here, in this living room, with the golden sunlight outside, and Aidy all exhausted and watching a kids' show, laughing because it is apparently hilarious - I thought it would be a good time to publicly recommit to this excellent advice. 

I am writing a book, and I'm pretty sure the only way I will ever finish it is to write every day that I am able, even if just a little. Even if it's while the kids claw at me, demanding snacks, or early in the morning over coffee while my family sleeps, or while J puts everyone to bed, and I have to resist the temptation of mindless Twitter scrolling. I will write every day, until the project is done. 

Hungry like the (annoying, helpless) wolf

Last year, one of the goals I made was to "try a new recipe every month." I was sort of successful, the excitement dying off by about March. So, come to think of it, I wasn't very successful. 

I wish I could say that the reason I made that goal was to improve myself or expand my skill set but the real reason is that meals in our house had become a stressful state of affairs and in some ways, they still are. Everything is generally fine. The kids are healthy. They're ok but not great eaters, Nora the only one who is truly difficult, although difficult in a weird way: she loves all fruits, most vegetables and a moderate handful of healthy standards that she can't get enough of, like tomatoes and mozzarella (with good olive oil), shrimp, guacamole, sourdough bread and olives. You might think this is charming, and I am here to tell you it is only charming when you're at a mediterranean or Mexican restaurant. 

I have a general and - I believe - reasonable philosophy about food, which is that you put food on the table, and the child can eat it, or not, but that is the meal and there is not another option. In theory this works out fine, but the problem is that just getting the food prepared and on the table was taking up so much energy while also not getting done in an efficient manner. No upside. The reason for this is planning. I wasn't planning our meals because I never put aside the few moments necessary to do so, and also because meal planning is lame. 

But like many lame things, it helps. SO MUCH. I'd imagine it helps any individual, couple or family, but with three little kids and weeks that look like ours - often with every night a presenting different scenario in terms of various activities, and in terms of which child is ready to blow a gasket - planning out what we are going to eat for dinner makes everything much, much easier. Because when the evening arrives, and the kids are very urgently telling me something about "SpongeBob" and exactly how many they are going to get to watch and when, and also screaming that they are hungry, HUNNNGGGRRYYYYY! BUT NOT FOR APPLE SLICES! and the dog is carrying somebody's shoe around in her mouth (commence more screaming) I don't have to make a decision about dinner, only to find that I can't even make that decision because we don't have the ingridients necessary to do so. Which is very upsetting and is when I start thinking about ordering pizza (which, let's be clear, occurs a lot regardless of planning). 

What happens on a good week - a week in which I am prepared, like this one - is that I look at the dry erase board and am all, "HEY problem solved. That's what we are eating, and the ingridients are all here in this kitchen, because I shopped for them ahead of time, and THAT is because I planned the living hell out of this week!"*

* at least as far as dinner is concerned, otherwise: no

(yes, it's true, I am taking an adult ballet class, post upcoming)

This week, like many, we got a Blue Apron delivery - three dinners that J and I make for ourselves on nights when the kids eat before us - and there was one night I was out, so we had to work with those specifics. It took literally ten minutes of work to plan out what we'd eat and put the required items on a shopping list. And voila, it is Wednesday and no one has had toast for dinner yet this week. Yet. This week. 

List: early June 2017

  • there should be a Valium dispenser in Costco
  • there should be a special device in my home that helps get peanut butter off utensils because the dishwasher cannot handle what we are imposing upon it 
  • what in the name of god is going on in "The Leftovers?!"
  • this year I am not going to plant any tomato or other fruit or vegetable plants only to have them yield one or two tiny gems that make up 1/40th of a salad, and then feel guilty that we are never successful, even though the real reason we are never successful is that it's so shady in our backyard; we can just go to the farmer's market for the love of god (mantra, on repeat)
  • I am going to put all the laundry away
  • I am going to plan out our meals for the week
  • I am going to create a successful writing schedule
  • I am going to answer all my unanswered text messages
  • I am going to go shopping all by myself and get all the food we need for the week in a normal-sized grocery store and not have any meltdowns because I won't be faced with the question of whether or not we need a five-pound bag of pitted dates (which, spoiler alert, I did buy at Costco)

Three miles times three

Listen. I, like you - like everybody probably - finds it really annoying when people talk about running all the time. So, I apologize. But at least I am not telling you my dreams! Which is, let's all agree, the worst. I mean, would you agree, certain unnamed individual who I share a bed with, who has easy access to me first thing in the morning when I haven't even had any coffee yet for the love of all that is holy?

As I've mentioned a few times recently, I let myself slide in the running and nutrition department after the marathon in November, which was ok with me. I needed and took a break from the intensity of that schedule. And it stayed ok with me for awhile, until recently, when I remembered I'd signed up to run a half-marathon at the end of next month, and I hadn't exactly been training very well, or, you know, at all

I had run. Three miles here and there with the intention of getting back on a schedule as the date approached. But I was mostly acting cocky. I figured that all that running from several months ago was still with me. Plus all that mental stamina I'd developed would see me through. And yes, I think that's probably true to an extent. But I also think you probably shouldn't take a six-month break from regular exercise and then run 13 miles. In front of people who can see you and witness your physical state. And photograph it. 

That's why this weekend I took a look at the schedule (one of the training programs on Hal Higdon's site, which I've used every time I've run a race) and realized that I was supposed to be up to nine miles by this point. Nine. Not three, only when it's nice outside and I feel like it.

So, trusting that all that prior training would be enough to sustain me, I buckled the old running belt, loaded a podcast and set out to run 4.5 miles away from my house, hoping I'd make it back home. 

Here's the part where I go on a little tangent: the past few months have been difficult, and when I say that, I want to stress that I belive I am one of the luckiest souls on this planet, and the difficulty we've encountered recently has only strengthened this assertion. That being said, life has been more challenging lately. This year J and I are less able than we have been in the past to rally and remain upbeat about his ongoing job search. We are more concerned with trappings of domestic life that we used to treat more breezily: getting the kids into the right, or at the very least, the same school and the fact that we've outgrown our adorable little house. My father has had some serious health issues, which has been scary and stressful (but incredibly heartening, too, witnessing the outpouring of support and optimism from friends and family). 

Anyway, I went for that run. And while I was running, I thought about this great thing that my friend Carole said, which I've thought about a lot. She once said that she started long distance running because it provided definitive results in a world of uncertainty (she, like J, is a scientist, and was talking about how unpredictable life in the lab can be, as you plot experiments and hope for the best). Carole said that she liked it that you could steadily train for a race and your body would respond the way it was supposed to. You just followed the directions, and it would work.

Because I did all that marathon training back in the fall, my body was still in enough shape that I could do that nine-mile run this weekend. In fact, I felt really good. And to be able to break out this definitive physical skill that I've developed during what's been a rather uncertain time felt really good, too. I'm planning on sticking to the schedule from here on out, even if it means breaking away from the political headlines I'm glued to every single morning so I can get out and pound the pavement. Thank god for the 24-hour cable news cycle, am I right?